Stong wanted to combine a coming-out story with his grandmother’s “outrageousness.”
When he became the Twink columnist at Fab Magazine, Jesse Stong never dreamed he'd be writing a play about two women, living together for five decades, who finally reveal their affection for each other when they're 75.
Stong began Breathe For Me - A Finely-Aged Love Story as his first-year project at the National Theatre School (NTS), wanting to combine an unusual kind of coming-out story with his grandmother's "saucy outrageousness."
"I also wanted to step out of my element," he recalls. "I knew I wanted to write queer characters but raised the stakes by trying to capture not the young gay experience, but rather that of these women. I also wanted to talk about the universal need to admit to yourself what you're really about, what you really feel."
Edith and Edna have shared a house for years, and now widowed caregiver Edith insists that wheelchair-bound Edna see a doctor about her "spells," which Edith thinks are increasingly serious epileptic attacks.
"Edith, holding everything together, has been a nurturer to the point of self-sacrifice; she's in control so Edna doesn't have to be," explains Stong, a social worker as well as writer. "But the manipulative Edna has her own agenda, and when she starts talking about her true feelings for Edith, Edith does her best to avoid the topic."
Thematically, the play is about the importance of looking at personal truths while there's still time. But rather than using high drama to make his point, Stong turns to comedy.
"Though there's an eventual punch to the material, I like pulling people in with the humour of everyday life. I want to show the tugging, back-and-forth relationship of an older couple, who seem to be fighting but are just interacting with each other as they regularly do. Real life can be very funny, even if it doesn't seem so at first."
Stong's collaborators are director Ed Roy, a mentor since Stong's days at the Young Writers' Unit at Buddies in Bad Times, and actors Deborah Kipp and Peggy Mahon.
"The women are NTS graduates, which I only discovered after we started working together. Listening to them talk after the first read-through, I discovered the closeness they have, a concern for each other that feeds wonderfully into the characters they play."
Breathe For Me - A Finely-Aged Love Story, opens tonight (Thursday, August 9) at Factory Theatre.